Arts Funding

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25 October 2022.

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Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

1. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to address the reported “perfect storm” that the arts and culture sector is facing, in light of reports that organisations such as the Falkirk Town Hall, the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, the Belmont in Aberdeen and the Edinburgh International Film Festival recently entered into administration and the Modern Two art gallery in Edinburgh was forced to close for winter. (S6T-00915)

I would like to clarify that the word “closure” should have applied to the Falkirk Town Hall—it has not gone into administration.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I thank Sarah Boyack for raising the issue. I understand that this is an incredibly difficult and worrying time for the sector, particularly for staff of the venues that she mentions. We are engaging with Creative Scotland, as well as with Aberdeen and Edinburgh councils, to provide support where possible for those organisations facing immediate challenges.

With regard to the Centre for the Moving Image, which includes the Filmhouse, the Belmont and the EIFF, it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to comment on on-going legal proceedings. However, I assure the member that the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and I have been engaged with key partners over the past few weeks, and Creative Scotland continues to explore alternative options for cultural programming. I will provide the member with an update as soon as I am able to do so.

We continue to work with the culture sector to identify barriers to immediate and long-term recovery, and we will continue to do everything within our powers and resources to help those who are most affected by current economic challenges.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I thank the minister for that response, particularly in relation to the cinemas and the film festival. The sector is important not only in terms of our culture; it is a huge part of our economy and identity. So, I would very much appreciate an update when there is—I hope—good news to be shared with us.

Over the recess, I hosted a round-table meeting on the impact of the cost of living crisis on the arts and culture sector. Almost 30 organisations attended, and they all painted a very grim picture. Their consensus was that they need support and that the rhetoric does not match the support that they need now. Do you agree that, as many cultural services are provided through local councils, the cut to local spending on museums and galleries by a fifth and the reduction of spend on culture and related services by 23 per cent is detrimental for arts and culture organisations across our communities?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I agree with Sarah Boyack on the point that she raises about the cultural significance of the organisations that we are talking about, in relation to not only the cultural and wellbeing significance that they have, but the significance that they hold in the local economies in which they sit. I absolutely agree with that point.

I commend Sarah Boyack for the work that she has done in having round-table sessions with stakeholders across the sector. We have been doing that, and we are looking to continue to advance that work with key stakeholders. I also agree with her about the grim picture that she describes. Our culture stakeholders face a very challenging situation, which highlights the folly of withdrawing the Covid recovery funding, as the United Kingdom Government did, before a meaningful recovery has actually taken place.

I remark on the topicality of that because it was the then chancellor and current Prime Minister who took that decision and because many of those venues face pressures because of the energy cost crisis. That is not the only reason why some of the venues face pressures, but it is part of the reason. That highlights not only the challenges that are faced when decisions—some of them incredibly reckless—are taken that make the situation much worse, but also what happens when you do not get to grips with a cost of living and energy cost crisis.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Yes, there are huge challenges, which is why I asked the question. The message from the culture sector is that it needs that support now, as the costs of electricity and gas are rocketing, and its staff need support, too. We know, from evidence that the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee has taken on the budget, that staff have left the sector. We cannot afford that to keep happening.

What will the Scottish Government do now? Does the minister agree that winter is the critical time to make the best use of our cultural spaces, whether they are national organisations or local authority spaces, to give multiple benefits for local communities? For example, the City of Edinburgh Council is looking at warm spaces with our libraries. Will the Scottish Government sit down with the sector, through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and consider the ideas that are being suggested by the sector for small procurement hubs like the Birmingham anchor network to make life easier for the sector by taking away some of the bureaucracy that makes life tough for it?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I thank Sarah Boyack for the constructive way in which she approaches the matter and the constructive suggestions that she has followed up on. I have received correspondence from Adam McVey, who makes similar suggestions for such a round-table session, and I intend to reply to him in positive terms about bringing together a round table to consider the challenges that the sector faces.

I am sure that Sarah Boyack will agree that it is a sad indictment, in energy-rich Scotland, which is part of the UK, that we are in the situation of having public buildings being used for warmth sharing during winter. People are facing a terrible situation, and it is a terrible indictment on the Tory Government and its predecessors for austerity, its lack of action and its recklessness that has wrecked the economy.

We are, of course, looking to do everything that we can for our cultural venues. Sarah Boyack referred to the particular pressures on staff, and we appreciate those. Pay deal negotiations are on-going, and I hope that they can be resolved, to ensure that we properly reward and remunerate our hard-working staff in those organisations. However, she will also appreciate that we operate within a fixed budget. We do not have the necessary borrowing powers to make a significant difference when such a difficult situation arises, and we do not have the ability to vary tax rates in-year. Our ability to respond to the situation is therefore incredibly challenging, especially when we, without any grudge or grievance, need to resolve inflation and higher than predicted public sector pay deals, which are putting an additional burden of £700 million on to the Scottish Government’s budget this year, before they are realised.

We will continue to do all that we can with the resources and powers that we have to respond to the situation as well as possible. I look forward to working with Sarah Boyack and others to ensure that we do that in a meaningful way.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

It is of great concern that Scotland’s highly regarded cultural venues are struggling to stay afloat during the Tory cost of living crisis, which is doing irreparable damage to our economy and our reputation as a global centre for the arts. We have heard about the temporary closure of the Modern Two art gallery, but it is also true that the wider gallery and museum sector faces significant financial challenges. What action has the Government taken in response to the immediate concerns of the museum and gallery sector?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Gordon MacDonald is absolutely right. I remind members that it was the then chancellor, who is now the Prime Minister, who took the decision to cut Covid recovery funding before a meaningful recovery was taking place. We are now seeing in the feedback that we are getting—this is not the full picture, but it is certainly part of it—that energy costs and the UK Government’s lack of willingness to take meaningful action quickly enough are part of the reason why we are facing the challenges that we are facing across the culture sector in Scotland.

Obviously, the Scottish Government is in regular contact with Museums Galleries Scotland and others across the sector to understand the challenges that they face. We have agreed with Museums Galleries Scotland that it will be able to repurpose the grants that it receives from the Scottish Government into a new resilience fund in order to support museums to build their resilience through activity that will reduce costs, increase income and support communities. The new fund was announced on 12 October. I hope that it goes some way towards supporting the sector with the challenges that it faces.

Photo of Sue Webber Sue Webber Conservative

National Galleries of Scotland has said that the crisis is bigger than the pandemic and that the roots of the issue go much further back—as far back as 2008. Budgets have been reduced and have never fully recovered.

Museums and galleries in Scotland have done everything possible to address the current challenges. They have reduced their operating costs by 67 per cent while increasing activity to help to achieve net zero, but budgets continue to shrink. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to accelerate and support our culture sector’s recovery? What additional financial resources is it currently considering? After all, the sector is critical to the city’s economy and the country’s reputation.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

With all due respect to the member, it is brave of her to talk about recovery when I have said on a number of occasions that the situation is partly down to the UK Government—of which she is, I presume, still a supporter—cutting back on Covid recovery funding before a meaningful recovery had taken place.

Of course, we are working with stakeholders across the sector to do everything possible through our support and through the flexibilities that we are able to offer, such as the repurposing of funding to create the new resilience fund. We are doing everything that we can to respond as appropriately as possible. Nevertheless, Sue Webber and her colleagues need to take responsibility for the fact that we are facing a cost of living crisis, an energy cost crisis and diminishing budgets in Scotland. I will take no lessons from her or her colleagues on how to run the culture sector in Scotland.